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Trump Now Claims He Doesn't Believe Putin's Meddling Denials; Former U.S. Intel Chiefs Fire Back At Trump; U.S. Carrier Strike Groups in Joint Exercise in Western Pacific; Alabama Voters Speak Out Amid Roy Moore Accusations; Community Gathers For First Service Since Shooting; Mnuchin: Most in Middle Class Will Get Tax Breaks; Key Differences Between House and Senate Tax Bills; Mueller Investigating Flynn's Role in Alleged Extradition of a Turkish Cleric. Aired 3-4p ET.

Aired November 12, 2017 - 15:00   ET



[15:00:41] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, hello again everyone, and thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Protest, diplomacy and a clarification marking the latest segment of President Trump Asia Trip. Violent protest in the streets of Manila greeting President Trump as he arrived in the Philippines. He got a warm welcome, though, from that country's controversial strong man and leader, Rodrigo Duterte whose bloody war on drugs have led to thousands of killings and international condemn nation.

Trump's diplomatic skills also now in the spotlight as the world waits to see how or if he addresses human rights concerns after praising Duterte's leadership in the past. But these meetings are being overshadowed by the president's latest comments where he not only attacked Kim Jong-un, but also former U.S. intelligence officials and refused to say definitively if he thinks Russia interfered in the 2016 election.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. As to whether I believe it or not, I'm with our agencies especially as currently constituted with their leadership. I believe in our Intel agencies or intelligence agencies. I worked with them very strongly.

There weren't 17 as was previously recorded, there were actually four. But they were saying there were 17, there were actually four. But as currently led by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's get to CNN's Kaitlan Collins in Manila where President Trump is still trying to clear up that confusion. So, Kaitlan, how did this come about? Why did the president feel like he had to say at least that?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, the president had to clarify his remarks because of a flight on Air Force One en route to Vietnam where he spoke with reporters and he was asked about this. And he said that he believed that Putin was being genuine when he said that Russia did not meddle in the presidential election.

Now that raised a lot of eyebrows among reporters because they were wondering did the president just mean he was being genuine or did he mean that he truly believed that Russia did not meddle in the election. And those comments drew almost immediate criticism from former intelligence agencies and from lawmakers on Capitol Hill including Senator John McCain, no fan of the president who put out a statement condemning that remarks saying, "There is nothing America first about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community. Vladimir Putin does not have America's interest at heart. To believe otherwise is not only naive, but also places our national security at risk."

Now, while the president sought to really parse his remarks today during that press conference in Vietnam when he was asked directly, do you believe that Russia interfered in the election. Now, he didn't give a yes or no answer. He said that he was trying to explain that he thought Putin was being very genuine when he made those remarks, but he also said that he sided with U.S. intelligence agencies like the CIA which, of course, have concluded that, yes, Russia did meddle in the election.

But what we're seeing here Fred is the president try to straddle those two lines between agreeing with U.S. intelligence agencies but also not pushing Putin and the Russians too hard on this thing. That created a lot of criticism because a lot of intelligence agencies and former officials still believe that this is something that could happen again in the next election and something that the United States still vulnerable to.

So they were hoping that the president would take a more forceful line on that. And this is something a problem -- a question that we've seen plague the administration for months now the Trump has been in office. Because he hasn't come out and directly said, yes, Russia did interfere in the election.

Instead, he made remarks like, oh, it could have been Russia, it could have been China, it could have been anybody. So most people would hope that he would just come out and say, yes, Russia did interfere in the election.

Now, this question will likely follow him here to the Philippines, his last stop on his five-day-trip to Asia where he's going to meet with the very contentious president, Rodrigo Duterte as well, Fred. So we'll be watching all of that and keep you updated on anything that happens.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much in Manila. [15:05:01] All right, so two former U.S. Intel chiefs are firing back at President Trump's controversial remarks on Russia's election meddling.

On CNN State of the Union with Jake Tapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and James Clapper, the former National Intelligence director respond to the president's earlier comment that he believes Vladimir Putin's election meddling denials. Both men believe President Trump is being played by Putin.


JAKE TAPPER, STATE OF THE UNION HOST: What message do you think President Trump is sending to Vladimir Putin right now in terms of Russia's continued attempts to interfere in elections in Europe and potentially in the United States again?

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I think what he's doing is saying to Vladimir Putin we need to put this behind us because there is important work to be done. I agree. We need to be able to find a way to improve relations between Moscow and Washington.

But I think what by not confronting the issue directly and not acknowledging to Putin that we know that you're responsible for this, I think he's giving Putin a pass and I think it demonstrates to Mr. Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego, and to try to play upon his insecurities which is very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint.

TAPPER: Do you agree that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders like Putin, and if so, does that make you concerned about the security of the United States?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: I do. I think, you know, he seems very susceptible to rolling out the red carpet and honor guards and all this, and all the trappings and pomp and circumstance that come with the office. And I think that appeals to him and that I think it plays to his insecurities. And yes, I do think both the Chinese and the Russians think they can play him.

TAPPER: And then, lastly, do you know -- and maybe you can't answer this question, but do you know Director Brennan of any laws broken by the Trump campaign, anybody affiliated with the Trump campaign when it comes to working with the Russians on the election interference?

BRENNAN: I'm just a former intelligence officer, I never had the responsibility for determining whether or not criminal actions were taken. But since leaving office on the 20th of January, I think more and more of this iceberg is emerging above the surface of the water. Some of the things that I knew about and some of things I didn't know about in terms of -- some of the social media efforts that Russia employed.

So I think what Bob Mueller, who again is another a quite essential public servant is doing is trying to get to the bottom of this and I think we're going to find out how large this iceberg really is. CLAPPER: If I can add, I just think it's absolutely critical for the country that there be closure on this and there be some finality to what did happen.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's discuss with our panel now, joining me our CNN Political Commentators, Paris Dennard and Ana Navarro. Good to see you both.

So Paris, let me begin with you. You know, pretty harsh criticism of President Trump coming from the former heads of U.S. intelligence there. And while Trump pledged his allegiance, you know, to the Intel Community while abroad, you know, he was careful. And he won't admit -- he did not admit that Russia meddled in the election. How problematic is that in your view?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think it's problematic at all. Because listen, at the end of the day we look at what the current CIA director under the Trump administration has stated repeatedly. And he says that believes that the Intelligence Community both the current one and previous directors that there was Russian interference. That is what --

WHITFIELD: But he did that. Mike Pompeo did that after the president said he believes Putin's denials. So, is it Trump coming out today to be in step with Mike Pompeo to see that there maybe problem now that is being created between he and the Intel chiefs because of his original statement this weekend while abroad.

DENNARD: I don't think there was a problem. I think it's the clarification because the media jumped all over the president's remarks on Air Force One. Nowhere in the remarks that the president made that he say that he believed that Russia did not interfered. What he said was he believed that Vladimir Putin meant what he said when he said he didn't interfere with the election.

WHITFIELD: He believed the words of Putin.

DENNARD: He said he believe that Putin -- he believed that Putin sincerely meant what he said. Just because I believe the words that come out of your mouth, doesn't mean that I am going to agree with everything that you're saying. He's saying I just believe that Putin believes exactly what he is saying. And Putin believes that to be true.

The president never said that he believes it a 100 percent that Putin did not do what he said he did. And that's why it was important for him to clarify the statement that matches in line with what his current CIA director states.

And I think the last point is this, when the president talk about the damn political hacks with the performance that you saw earlier today with Jake, it showed them to be very, very overtly political and that's unfortunate. [15:05:01] WHITFIELD: So Ana, how much of that do you agree with that, you know, is this a potentially more problematic for the president or did he clear the air?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think he keeps stirring this path, right? And I think he keeps going down the same path. Time and time again, we have seen that he does not back up the U.S. Intelligence Committee. He has a very difficult relationship with them from day one. From the first day when he went and stood at that CIA headquarters with the stars of fallen CIA officers behind him and started re-litigating his victory and re-litigating the election.

He does it over and over again. He steps on U.S. intelligence. He's the commander-in-chief, it's just not befitting of him. But whether he does it or not, the one thing that's not going to change is Bob Mueller's investigation.

So, no matter how many times Donald Trump says that he believes former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, Robert Mueller, we have seen in the last few weeks is focused, is thorough, is serious about continuing his investigation. This is all background noise, it's not going to affect the investigation. What it will affect is the morale of people serving our country who I think don't realize and don't feel that the president of the United States has their back.

And that is very sad, it's particularly sad on a Veterans Day when we should be thanking everybody who sacrificed their lives in the service of this country.

WHITFIELD: And Ana, I wonder if -- Paris, do you believe that, you know, Mike Pompeo, you know, kind of took offense to -- you know, some of -- much of what the president said whether it be about believing the denials coming, you know, from Putin, and, you know, back to your bit about the, you know, the political hacks. Did Mike Pompeo and others perhaps take effect, you know, particularly on Veterans Day weekend, that political hacks -- that terminology would be used to describe a Brennan, you know, Comey, former director Comey, as well as Clapper?

DENNARD: I think it's fair to say that sometimes people can act in a political fashion. And there is no doubt about it that Comey acted in a political nature. The two performances of that we saw earlier today --

WHITFIELD: But it's been about -- but I thought that we are talking about political hacks and the description of this Intel -- the Intel Community. It was in concert with the ongoing sentiment from the 17 Intel agencies and outlets who have said Russia did meddle in the U.S. election. That was the context in which it was used, right?

DENNARD: No. The context in which it was used and if you go back to the context of what he said, the script, the president's transcript, he said it's claimed that it's 17 but it's really not, it's three or four. And then he named the three or four that he felt acted in a political manner. And then two of three or four come on CNN and acted in a political manner, talked in political ways outside of the norm which you would see for someone who has represent the CIA, either present or past tense. So I think the president is right to have said that they are acting in a political nature and the question -- and I agree with Clapper. This needs to come to an end so the country can move forward and get to the bottom of what happened.

But that will include or it should include what the Clinton administration did. Or what the Clinton campaign did and what the Obama administration did or did not do as relates to Russia's meddling in the election and during the campaign season.

WHITFIELD: So Ana, is it a political in nature when you hear Brennan, Clapper, you know, talk about defending the Intel Community.

NAVARRO: Look, (INAUDIBLE), it's all about service, it's all about patriotism, it's all about backing up the men and women on the field who are risking their lives, and I think it's our duty as Americans to all do the same thing.

These are folks -- and, you know, let's not forget that the commander- in-chief is a guy who dodged the draft several times because he had a bone spur. And so for him to outwardly and publicly attack U.S. intelligence officers who are out there risking their lives for years and years at a time. People like Brennan and people like Clapper who have had a long life of service and who are patriots throughout different administrations is inappropriate.

But again, it doesn't matter because Bob Mueller, he doesn't care. Bob Mueller is going to continue investigating this and we are going to get closure. Because at some point we are going to know what happens and whether he's the president of the United States or not, he's going to have to listen to it and accept it.

WHITFIELD: All right, we're going to leave it there for now. Ana Navarro, Paris Dennard, thank you so much.

DENNARD: Thanks for Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So in a show of force to North Korea, U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers had been conducting fly overs near the Korean Peninsula. And now the Navy is also putting on a show of force for the first time in a decade. Three carrier strike groups operating together in a joint exercise in the Western Pacific Ocean.

[15:15:01] The USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt are all involved in air defense drill, sea surveillance, defensive air combat training and other maneuvers.

CNN Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott joining us now with on all of this. So Elise, this is a very strong show of force in the region. Are U.S. Allies involved while the president continues to be in the Asian region there?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are, Fred. The South Korean drills are taking their joint drills with South Korea. They have their own warships and Aegis missile defenses in these exercises as well as the Japan self defense forces later in these four-day exercises they'll be taking part. And obviously, all a show to North Korea that despite its growing missile and nuclear capability that, you know, this dominant force would be able to counter any North Korean threat.

But, you can also see -- you know, these are taking place in the area of the Korean Peninsula also in the Eastern South China Sea. So, while it sends a very powerful message to North Korea, it also sends a message to China and others that, you know, the U.S. and its allies will be very dominant in the region.

WHITFIELD: And so how potentially might Trump's, you know, Asia trip impact the efforts to contain Kim?

LABOTT: Well, I think, Fred that the president had like a very dual message when he was talking. He was talking about trying to, you know, get the world to rally, get all Asian nations to work together to counter this North Korean threat.

But on the other hand, he was talking about a very America first trade and economic message. So I think that, you know, countries in this region are really looking for the U.S. to be a leader not just on the security and to ward off against bullies like China but also on trade.

I think, Fred, he also had a dual message when it came to North Korea. He was talking about a very forceful message, you have these exercises, you have this tweet -- Twitter war that he had with Kim Jong-un. But in the last 24 hours, he was talking about possibly becoming friends with him as he said in the past he'd be willing to meet with him.

Take a listen to President Trump talking about how he could become friends with Kim Jong-un.


TRUMP: It seems I think anything is a possibility. Strange things happen in life. That might be a strange thing to happen but it's certainly a possibility.

It that did happen, it would be a good thing for -- I can tell you, for North Korea. But it would also be good for lots of other places, and it would be good for the world. So, certainly it is something that could happen. I don't know that it will but it would be very, very nice if it did.


LABOTT: It would be very nice if it did, Fred. But there's no signal from North Korea whatsoever that it even wants to have talks with the U.S. or any partners in the region. Any type of diplomacy and that's why the president's national security team has been working on this kind of dual on, you know, forceful U.S. military presence in the region, turning up that pressure on the economic front sanctions, but also saying that it's willing to talk.

I don't necessarily think this Twitter war between the president and Kim Jong-un is going to make Kim Jong-un be any more willing to sit down with the U.S. president.

WHITFIELD: All right, Elise Labott, thanks so much.

All right, still ahead, Washington weighing in on the allegations against Roy Moore.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If these allegations are true, absolutely. This is incredibly inappropriate behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump is the leader of the Republican Party in America. It's his responsibility to step forward and say more and do more.


WHITFIELD: As politicians distance themselves from the embattled Republican, what are Alabama voters saying about the controversy?

Plus, the Texas church that was the scene of that horrific shooting exactly one week ago today, reopening its doors today as the community comes together to honor those whose lives were lost.


[15:23:23] WHITFIELD: A day after Roy Moore sitting in front of the cameras denied allegations of misconduct, Washington lawmakers are weighing in on the decision to stand his ground and Moore staying in this crucial race just one month away.

Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway spoke about it this morning.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I said very early in this process that the conduct as described should disqualify anyone from serving in public office and I'll stand by that. The president and others in the Republican Party have made clear if the allegations are true, this man should step aside. But I have gone further than that and I reflected something the vice president said as well which is everybody should know that conduct is disqualifying.

And Mr. Moore has denied that conduct, I think you've got other people out there talking about what did or did not happen many years ago.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Martin Savage is in Alabama with the local perspectives there. So Martin you've been to people there who had been leaving church services. What are they saying? MARTIN SAVAGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends who you talk to of course. I should point out that Roy Moore has very strong backing of a lot of Christian conservatives. That has always been the case. He stood up for a lot of things that they believe in.

However, in this town which is his hometown, not everybody here is going to vote for Roy Moore, but of course a lot of people know him and it appears they are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I had an interesting conversation here. Listen to this gentleman.


JACK FLOYD, ALABAMA RESIDENT: Roy Moore is my friend. I'm a Democrat and I'm not going to voting for him because I'm a Democrat, but I've known him a long, long time.

[16:25:02] The thing that bothers me about those charges is that he's been in public life, run for many offices, and as many times as this happened, no one ever said anything until now. And I don't think it comes from any place except Washington. It comes from Washington, it comes from the Republican Party.


SAVAGE: You have heard that there appears to be a lot of sort of diminishing support for Roy Moore coming from, say, the national level of Republicans. Excuse me, it's not reflected here on the ground in Alabama. There still many people that seem to support Roy Moore as troubling as these allegations are.

However, the issue of timing is what stands out to everybody here and they believe that it's dirty tricks. In his case, that gentleman believes it's dirty tricks on the part of mainstream Republicans. Luther Strange was the mainstream Republican candidate that actually Roy Moore defeated. So, some are suggesting here, it's not the Democrats but it's actually Republicans and they're trying to ruin the campaign of Roy Moore.

A lot of intrigue here. Moore's campaign says that they're going to come forward with more information about the accusers, these women as it what really may have motivated them and especially, why now. So, many people are waiting for that, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And they're also fascinating. All right, Martin Savage, thank you so much.

All right, still ahead, the church where that deadly massacre happened one week ago today, reopens as the community gathers to mourn those that they lost. We will take you there live, next.


[15:31:01] WHITFIELD: It's been exactly one week since the horrific mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas that killed more than two dozen worshippers. In just a few hours, the grieving community will be allowed back into that church for the first time to help with the healing process.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung joins us live now. She attended the Sunday service earlier today where people traveled from near and far to be with the local town's people there. And what was that like?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, there was sadness. People are hurting as they will be for a long time. But as one member of the community told me, they see goodness prevailing. A community very strong in its faith says they are coming together with the help of God. And you saw that on display in this morning service.

More than 500 people came together in the tent behind me, it was standing room only. There were members of First Baptist congregation as well as family members of the victims who lost their lives last Sunday, and also people who traveled here from out of town.

I met a man from Dallas, another family from North Carolina who told me they wanted to come here to show their support for this grieving community. And First Baptist pastor Frank Pomeroy, he delivered a sermon that preached perseverance. He asked for strength and goodness from these people in the fight against evil.

Senator John Cornyn was on hand. He spoke to the crowd and after the service, he shared with us his reaction to Pastor Pomeroy's sermon.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I saw him standing there at the front of the church, comforting others and he lost his 14-year-old daughter. It's remarkable. But it's a testament to their faith and their compassion for others during this very difficult time.


HARTUNG: From what I observed, Senator Cornyn's sentiments were felt by everyone inside that tent, Fred. Pastor Pomeroy said he knew each one of the people killed last Sunday. He said some of them were his best friends. Through tears he said one of them was his own daughter. But the strength he showed set an example for everyone in this community and well beyond it.

WHITFIELD: And then, Kaylee, tell me about the First Baptist Church reopening later on today. Opening the doors not necessarily for parishioners, not because of a service, but really just to kind of become re-familiarized with the sanctuary.

HARTUNG: Well, Fred, Pastor Pomeroy made the point today that he wants anyone who walks through the doors of First Baptist Church to know that the people who lost their lives inside lived their life for the Lord. He doesn't want those lives lost in vain. It's that example that he himself set today. He wants the example of those members of his congregation to be remembered.

And so, today those doors will reopen as a memorial to those victims. But next Sunday, First Baptist congregation will be back inside their own sanctuary. Not in a tent on a baseball field. They will be inside the walls of that church with Frank Pomeroy preaching to them.

It was Friday morning that contractors and construction workers first got in the building to clean it up and to rebuild. It's hard to imagine right now, Fred what we will experience when we walk in those doors in a couple of hours.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much.

All right, Republican Senator John Cornyn also said the background check system is a failure. He plans to introduce new legislation that would require the federal government to upload information about service members and misconduct.

Under federal law, the Texas church shooter was supposed to have been barred from legally purchasing a weapon after his conviction for assaulting his wife and stepson, but the Air Force did not notify federal officials of his violent past.

All right, still ahead, Republicans hoping for a vote on their tax plan this week, but what is in the bill for the average American family? We break down both the House and Senate versions of the bill, and what it might mean for you, next.


[15:39:14] WHITFIELD: A major battle is brewing over tax policy and it's all coming to a head this week when House Republicans hope to hold a vote on their reform proposal. At the center of the debate, the middle class. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper earlier today to discuss how the tax plan will affect those families.


TAPPER: Most people in the middle class according to this plan will get a tax cut, but you will acknowledge that some according to this plan, some middle class Americans will see a tax increase?

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Well, as you know, one of the things that is so complicated about the tax system today is that everybody has a different situation takes advantage of different parts of the code. It's very complicated. So by simplifying the code, we're putting everybody on a level playing field.

[15:40:00] We've literally run hundreds if not thousands of examples within Treasury, and for most people -- and again, it may not be a hundred percent but by far than majority, both the House and Senate version provide middle income tax relief, and that's what we want to do.

And both plans have for the median family of four over a $1,000 of tax relief which is quite significant. And we actually ran the numbers for you, even a family of $300,000 which is a lot of money in New York, they're also getting a more -- a several thousand dollar tax cut. So, I think both plans accomplish what we're looking to do.

TAPPER: But, certainly, there are middle class voters who voted for President Trump who are going to get a tax increase in this plan if it becomes law. And that's not what they were told by candidate Trump that would happen.

MNUCHIN: Well, it's not what he wants. And again, as we go through both of these plans, the House I expect will pass the bill this week. The Senate will move on it after thanksgiving. We'll end up in conference and we'll fine-tune this.

So, again, the problem is this tax code is so complicated that literally everybody may take advantage of a different piece. And we want to make these things simple and fair, and provide middle income tax relief. And I'm comfortable we'll end up doing that.

TAPPER: But are you committing to saying that you want this to be fine-tuned, you want this to be changed so that any middle class Americans who would have their taxes increased which is a minority but it's still a chunk of middle class Americans that you want that fixed before President Trump signs into law?

MNUCHIN: What I'm saying is, there are slight differences between both bills. The good news is both the House and the Senate and the administration have the same objectives. And that's about middle income tax relief, that's about fixing the business tax system so that we're competitive. And the slight changes between both bills, I'm comfortable we'll iron out in conference so we can get something to the president to sign in December.


WHITFIELD: All right, so just how different are those two dueling GOP tax plans?

CNN's Alison Kosik has a break down of the proposals.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Fredricka. There are major differences between the House and Senate tax bills, setting up a dramatic showdown over tax policy in the next few weeks.

First, there are some areas that do overlap. Both plans nearly double the standard deduction, expand the tax credit, and repeal the alternative minimum tax. But there are serious differences beyond that.

For example, this Senate plan has seven tax brackets versus four in the House bill. The Senate bill leaves the mortgage interest deduction alone while the House bill caps it at $500,000. And the Senate bill also keeps the estate tax while the House bill eventually repeals it.

The state and local tax deduction is also likely a major sticking point. The Senate version gets rid of the entire deduction while the House bill let people deduct property taxes up to $20,000. There are differences on the business as well.

Both bills cut the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent. But the Senate bill delayed those cuts until 2019 where as they kick in immediately for the House bill.

Bottom line here, these discrepancies will have to be worked out. One more hurdle facing GOP lawmakers trying to get a bill on the president's desk. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, Alison Kosik, thank you so much.

Still ahead, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions heads to Capitol Hill where he is expected to face more questions about the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia. This amid explosive new allegations that former National Security adviser Michael Flynn was offered millions to forcibly remove someone from the U.S.


[15:43:09] WHITFIELD: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and while the hearing is not focussed on Russia, lawmakers have already warned Sessions that they plan to ask him about inconsistencies in his prior testimony on Russia.

And this comes amid a bombshell report that President Trump's former National Security adviser Michael Flynn and his son were allegedly offered a multimillion dollar payout to forcibly extradite a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and extraditing that person to Turkey.

CNN Justice Correspondent Pamela Brown has more.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Flynn's role in the alleged plot to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, a legal permanent resident of the United States.

The Wall Street Journal reports the FBI has already questioned several people regarding a meeting between the Flynns and Turkish Government representatives in mid-December at the 21 Club in Manhattan. At the time, Flynn was just weeks away from starting his new role as Donald Trump's National Security adviser.

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The next president of the United States right here.

BROWN (voice-over): And in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria conducted before the Wall Street Journal story broke and air in Sunday, the Turkish prime minister denies any deals were ever made with Flynn. But hope Flynn's previous work for the Turkish Government would help win an extradition.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: Had Michael Flynn provided you with any assurance that it would happen? BINALI YILDRIM, TURKISH PRIME MINISTER: No, no one has.

BROWN (voice-over): At this point, it's not known if a deal was reached or whether money was exchanged for this proposed plan of forced extradition. The December meeting follows revelations of related discussions months before. Former CIA Director James Woolsey was part of a meeting in September with Flynn and Turkish officials about potential ways to get Gulen back to Turkey to face charges.

[15:50:04] JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: There was at least some strong suggestion by the -- one or more of the Americans present at the meeting to the Turks that we would be able -- the United States would be able through them to get hold of Gulen.

BROWN (voice-over): At the time, a spokesman for Flynn denied there were any talks about physically removing Gulen. Erdogan has blamed a failed military coup attempt in July last year on Gulen who was been living in exile at this compound in Pennsylvania.

PRESIDENT TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKEY: (through translator): Extradite this man in Pennsylvania to Turkey. If we are strategic partners or model partners, do what is necessary.


BROWN: Flynn's attorney Robert Kelner released a rare statement saying, "Today's news cycle has brought allegations about General Flynn ranging from kidnapping and bribery that are so outrageous and prejudicial that we are making an exception to our usual rule, they are false." Flynn Jr.'s attorney did not provide a comment.

Meantime, Flynn is also in hot water for not disclosing his lobbying work for the Turkish Government during the presidential campaign where he took around $500,000. He has restoratively registered as a foreign agent.

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.

WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead. He is hailed as America's first celebrity chef. Coming up, a sneak peek at tonight's special Parts Unknown on Chef Jeremiah Tower.


[15:55;54] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back.

He may be the most influential chef you never heard of. Jeremiah Tower, he is hailed as America's first celebrity chef yet his name has been virtually left out of culinary history until now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most people would not know who Jeremiah Tower is, and sadly. He certainly is considered in my book anyway, a father of the American cuisine. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: During the '80s and early '90s, Jeremiah Tower was one of the major names in this country. He was a little (INAUDIBLE). He was known all over Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The very first thing I heard about after I heard about Chez Panisse was Jeremiah Tower. He was the darling, the glamour, the sexy guy, the smart guy, and the innovative chef that became something that was what everyone wanted to know about.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the '70s Alice Waters open Chez Panisse. You cannot begin to understand the impact on the food landscape.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN, PARTS UNKNOWN HOST: 1972, Jeremiah Tower walks to the Chez Panisse. Everyone reluctantly or have to agree that he put the place on the map. Jeremiah Tower's menus made Chez Panisse the place that everybody wanted to go.

A complete re-evaluation of not just American food and ingredients, but food.


WHITFIELD: All right. Well, the CNN film "Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent" premieres tonight at 9:00. And here to discuss it all, CNN contributor and New York Times op-ed columnist, Frank Bruni. He is also the former New York Times chief restaurant critic. All right, good to see you.


WHITFIELD: OK. So, who is Jeremiah Tower? How do you add to, you know, that kind of (INAUDIBLE) of descriptions about who he is?

BRUNI: Well, I think what you said right before we saw those interesting descriptions was right. He is the most famous chef you've never heard of. He is someone who because he was, you know, I think you or someone used the phrase first celebrity chef. Because he was the first celebrity chef.

A celebrity chef before we were accustomed to them and before they sort of saturated the culture the way they do. He somehow has been edited out of history and yet, when you eat in restaurants today, what we think of as a good restaurant or as an ambitious restaurant that people want to go to, the way those menus are put together, they all bear traces of his legacy. And so it's interesting that it is finally getting the attention that eluded him when he was at the height of his career.

WHITFIELD: Is there a reason why he kind of disappeared and then he kind of came back but then poof again?

BRUNI: Well, he came back briefly -- you're referring to when he took over Tavern on the Green a couple of years ago and that didn't work out because Tavern on the Green never works out for any chef.

He just --I get the sense when I look back at his life that he burned so brightly that he burned out. And he left the scene before we all became quite as obsessed with the celebrity of the food world as we are now. And I think that's why people don't remember him.

WHITFIELD: Well, that's sad. But then now you and others are helping to kind, you know, of light that flame again so that people -- if they didn't know him, now they do.

BRUNI: Yes. They'll watch this documentary and they'll learn he is a very fascinating person and self-taught. You know, walked into Chez Panisse with virtually no experience and along with Alice Waters, made that one of the iconic American restaurants, you know, of the 20th century.

WHITFIELD: All right, Frank Bruni, thank you so much.

BRUNI: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And, of course, to everybody, you can watch "Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent' tonight on CNN 9:00 Eastern and Pacific.

The next hour of the CNN Newsroom starts right now.

All right, hello again everyone. Welcome this Sunday, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

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